Coast with the Most: Ireland's best seaside towns, eats, drinks and ice-creams for summer
We do like to be beside the sea!
Emily Hourican compiles the best seaside towns, places to eat, drink, and grab an ice cream on the Irish coast.
My father used to sing a song about Ireland that ended, "thank God we're surrounded by water." I think the point of the song was the protective quality of the sea and the distance it put between us and England, but for me, those final lines were plenty in themselves: Thank God we're surrounded by water. By two lots of water in fact, the Atlantic Ocean and the Irish Sea.
Thank God we are never further than a couple of hours from a beach, and that so very many of these beaches are spectacular, among the most beautiful in the world. From the white sand variety that could double as stretches of the Caribbean on a good day, to the stony or outright rocky, Irish beaches are magnificent. Thank God too that the food and drink now available to be consumed beside the sea - the pints and seafood platters, homemade chowder and ice-cream - have improved to the point where they are a match for the natural wonders.
No wonder celebrities, Irish and international, can't get enough of the Irish coast; from Donegal - where Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick have a house - to Clare, favourite spot of Aoibhin Garrihy; Cork, home-from-home for Graham Norton and Kerry, adored by Miriam O'Callaghan, the four corners of the country act like magnets.
There is a quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery who wrote Le Petit Prince, that goes: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." It's a subtle piece of reasoning, and a clever one, because once infected with that longing, it never goes away.
As a nation, I think we all have it, that longing for the sea. And for good reason. There is some science behind this - sea air is full of negatively-charged ions that improve our ability to absorb oxygen and balance levels of seratonin - but you don't need to know any of that to know, quite simply, it works. Bad days are made better, good days made near-perfect, by time spent by and in the sea.
It's the ever-changing colours and textures, the dance of sun on waves and the way the wind whips these to little points or huge breakers. It's the sense of awe mixed with affection, and the way those two things swap around. It's in our blood.
Best Places To Eat
Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore not only has Michelin-starred locally foraged food by chef Martijn Kajuiter, but a generous serving of sea views and the sandy stretch of Ardmore beach to tempt marine types.
Take your binoculars as this is a good spot for whale and dolphin spotting. Bonus points for proximity to Goat's Island, a sheltered cove perfect for a dip. See thecliffhousehotel.com.
Go to Aherne's in Youghal for fantastic seafood straight from the boats in Youghal harbour, locally reared beef and lamb, seasonal vegetables and a delicious array of various home baked bread. See ahernes.net.
The Old Pier, Slea Head Drive (near Ballydavid), Dingle Peninsula. Loved by locals for both the food -huge portions of fresh fish perfectly cooked - and the views - The Old Pier overlooks the Three Sisters on the Slea Head drive. It also does B&B, and Gallarus Oratory is nearby. See oldpier.com.
Martin Bealin and Nuala Cassidy's Global Village is a Michelin-recommended, award-winning spot, serving local produce, seafood and sustainably farmed meats. Veg comes from their garden on Mount Eagle, and are grown using biodynamic principles. Taste the difference. See globalvillagedingle.com.
Head for Eva Kelly's funky new Kelly's Deli by Rosslare strand. Great salads and bread during the day, becomes Lovin' Pizza at night. See kellys.ie.
Oliveto's in Dun Laoghaire with its spacious garden overlooking the pier and Dublin Bay, is a winner. Order a plate of antipasto or some bruschetta, and perhaps a Caprese salad. Kick back. See oliveto.ie.
Aqua in Howth is almost in the sea, with lovely views of Ireland's Eye. Throw caution to the wind, or water, and get a half-dozen Carlingford oysters, followed by grilled lobster. See aqua.ie.
Harry's Bar & Restaurant in Bridgend, Inishowen, is a family-run business that has done more than its share to put the area on the foodie map. Fish is straight from the Greencastle auctions and meat from local farms, while its off-shoot, Harry's Shack at Portstewart, is fish-and-chip heaven.
Kitty Kelly's, in Largy, Killybegs is based in a lovely, 200-year-old, farmhouse and boasts Hollywood stars, Irish and UK celebrities and loyal locals among its customers.
Best of the rest
The White Horses, Ardmore, Co Waterford; The Gulf Stream, Inchydoney, Clonakilty, Co Cork; O'Gradys on the Pier, Barna, Co Galway; Clancy's on the Strand (best seafood chowder in Ireland), Youghal, Co Cork; The Strand Inn, Dunmore East, Co Waterford; Blue Bar or Stoop Your Head, both Skerries, Co Dublin; Gourmet Food Parlour, Malahide and Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin.
Best Pint By The Sea
The Moorings has a fab location on the quays at Dungarvan, and a buzzy, vibrant mix of locals and tourists. See mooringsdungarvan.com.
The Bulman in Kinsale. Empty inside, packed outside. And what a view. See thebulman.ie.
What is it about an island that is so magical? After a 10-minute ferry journey from Baltimore to Sherkin, a dip on Silver Strand, take a short stroll to The Jolly Roger, relax with a pint of the black stuff on a bench outside the pub and drink in the views of the craggy mainland and out to sea. Their chowder is widely renowned.
The Blackbird, Ballycotton, has music, craft beer, a great beer garden, and homemade, locally sourced food from The Field Kitchen. See blackbirdballycotton.com
McGowan's in Easkey is popular with surfers and locals alike, and the pint is said to be the best in the county.
The terrace at Mulranny Park Hotel is set high on the hillside on the edge of Clew Bay. From here, try to tot up the slew of islands in the bay, plan your cycle trip on the Greenway, or genuflect towards Croagh Patrick to the west. Go at sunset when the skies seem huge and brilliant. See mulrannyparkhotel.ie.
Many know about Foxy John's on Main Street - the legendary hardware shop and bar where the Star Wars crew recently had their wrap party in Dingle, but Currans, just across the road, has equally retained its old world charm.
You can buy grandfather shirts and caps on one side of the bar and pints on the other. This is where Peig Sayers worked when she came to Dingle.
Ireland's most northerly pub is Farren's at Malin Head; also one of the friendliest in Ireland.
Best of the rest
Bushe's Bar, Baltimore, Co Cork; Sailor's Bar, Clare Island, Co Mayo; The Boardwalk Cafe, Clifden, Co Galway. The Abbey Tavern, Howth; Gibneys, Malahide; The Purty Kitchen, Dun Laoghaire.
Best Cone or Scoop
A satisfied customer at Teddy's ice cream shop in Dún Laoghaire
Mammy Johnston's Ice Cream Parlour & Café - a stylish seafront cafe, with over 40 flavours - in Strandhill, Co Sligo, was recently awarded the title of Best Ice Cream Maker at the biggest ice cream and coffee exhibition in the world in Italy. If there is a better reason to visit, we can't think of it.
They say the best things come in small packages and this is certainly true of The Cabin Cafe, New Street, Donaghadee, the ice cream star of Co Down. Try a "poor bear poke," which is Norn' Irish for a honeycomb vanilla ice cream cone. You could also kill two birds with one stone and, in the eternal quest for the perfect pint, head over to Grace Neill's on the High Street, the oldest pub in Ireland. See graceneills.com.
Moe's Cafe on the promenade in Tramore, Co Waterford has a rustic, beachy style seating area overlooking the bay and serves Gino's ice cream, made by the Dunne family, who have been doing a great line in home-made ice cream and chocolate sauce for over 25 years.
Traditionalists will want to go to Teddy's in Sandycove, Co Dublin for a 99, modernists might brave the queues at Scrumdiddly's further along the coast in Dún Laoghaire but gourmets will make the pilgrimage to Murphys in Dingle, where ice cream is handmade from local cream, free range eggs, organic sugar and even their own sea salt. Best flavour? White chocolate and rosewater. Weirdest? Blue cheese and caramalised shallot. See murphysicecream.ie.
Best of the Rest
Butlers Ice Cream, Dungarvan, Co Waterford; Storm in a Teacup, Skerries, Co Dublin
Best Seaside Towns
Head for the seaside town of Ballycastle in Co Antrim on the last Monday and Tuesday in August for the centuries-old festival, Ould Lammas Fair. There's horse trading, music and shopping. Food-wise, you can go the healthy route with dulse - a local delicacy of seaweed - or attack your teeth with Yellow Man, a honeycomb sugary treat.
Caherdaniel, Kerry; Freddie's is the best pub in this minuscule town.
Roundstone in Galway has lovely views, great fish restaurants, and a playground to keep the kids amused while you quietly ponder life's strangeness.
Vaughan's pulls a creamy pint and serves up a banoffee pie that'll turn your granny green with envy. And after a good feed, you can stroll down the local beach or visit Dog's Bay a few kilometres down the road.
One proviso - don't go in August when too many Dublin reg 4x4s clog up the pretty town's main street.
Dinky Dunmore East (above) in Waterford has it all: first-rate hotels - the Haven Hotel is elegant, with faultless food; while the Strand Inn has super sea views and superb seafood; a belter of a beach - small but perfectly formed and sheltered from the elements by the vertiginous cliffs; humming hostelries, try the Spinnaker Inn; and considerable craic agus ceol - especially during the legendary annual Bluegrass Festival, which takes place this year, its 22nd outing, from August 25-28.
Dublin Bay is a Unesco biosphere reserve, and no wonder; the stunning bay is dotted with absolute gems, from castles and cliffs to beaches and restaurants.
Skerries is a beautiful coastal village with restored working windmills, great coastal walks, and a rich link to St Patrick. And the pier is dotted with some of the best fish restaurants on the Dublin coast.
Malahide village offers quaint streets, bustling cafes and restaurants, and chic boutiques, alongside a marina full of sail boats.
Howth, a picturesque working fishing village, has plenty of great seafood restaurants, boat trips and cliff top walks.
Dún Laoghaire is renowned for its Victorian pier, jolly People's Park and many water activities, while the heritage town of Dalkey has Dalkey Castle, kayaking and boat trips to Dalkey Island and beyond.
For more information on Ireland's coastal villages and seaside towns, see visitdublin.com, wildatlanticway.com and irelandsancienteast.com.
Sunday Indo Living